Which is Worse? Ending a Marriage Or Ending a Serious Relationship

ending a marriage

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

Ending a marriage is never easy. In fact, my divorce was one of the most difficult things I have ever been through in my life. But, if you can believe it, I think that ending a serious relationship could be even more painful.

Hear me out before you say, “What the heck is she talking about?! Ending a marriage is brutal!” You’re right it is. But let me explain.

I have a friend, who several years ago got divorced because her husband was cheating with a woman he worked with. After several months, she began dating a guy with whom she would end up spending the next two years. When the relationship ended, she said to me, “Honestly, this is worse than the divorce.”

Her words stuck with me as I went through a divorce five years after that, and couldn’t believe how ANYTHING could be worse than what I was going through.


Divorce Attorney Jason C. Tuchman


But, I thought about it, and it does make sense that although ending a marriage isn’t easy, here are two main reasons why I think a breakup might be worse.

Reason #1

During divorce, I remember feeling like I was in panic mode for several months. My thoughts on my ending marriage weren’t about breaking up with the man I vowed to spend the rest of my life with. My thoughts were completely occupied with my children, first off. What was I doing to them? How were they going to handle this? How would they turn out?


It's time to find the money - Divorce Money Guide



I was also thinking about finances. I knew I had to go back to work, and since I hadn’t been employed for so long, I was scared, insecure about my professional abilities, and was wondering how I was going to juggle work and kids. Also, would I have to move out of my house?

Then there was the divorce, itself. I was totally focused on attorney’s fees, court dates, judge’s rulings, and if the decree I was going to sign was right for me and my kids.


Bridging the Gap Between Conflict and Resolution


Because I was so focused on all those other things, I never had a chance to mourn the relationship part of the divorce. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I miss his soft hair or how we’d laugh together, or burying my face in his neck and breathing in the smell of his skin, ” Instead, I was all about survival: financially and emotionally, and about the well being of my children. There was no room for sadness over my ex. That part somehow got squeezed out.

A breakup–where there are no legal issues to fight about, no children involved, and not even a home where someone needs to move out–allows the couple to give 100% of their attention to the breakup itself, and that is what I think my friend meant all those years ago.

Reason #2

Ever read the book Crazy Time? Author Abigail Trafford talks about how when your first real relationship after your divorce ends, it brings back the loss you felt from your divorce. You relive that memory of losing something, no matter how many years later. So, you get a double dose of your pain. You mourn both guys (according to Trafford.)

Also very important: Trafford implies that the reason there are so many second marriages that don’t work out is because one or both of the people have never mourned the emotional loss of their first marriage. And, she says that when they get divorced for the second time, they often mourn the loss from ending a marriage the first time. In other words, people try to mask the pain of their divorce by marrying someone else, and when that doesn’t work out, again, they mourn both loses.


The Essentials to Healing After Divorce - Mini Course


The thing is, I don’t want to minimize the pain of ending a marriage. Trust me, those were dark days (months) and some of the lowest, most painful times I can ever remember. But I have to believe that a long term breakup can be brutal, and gut wrenchingly sad.


The best way to put it is that neither ending a marriage or ending a long-term relationship is worse or better. They’re both awful.


Cherie Morris, J.D. - Divorce Coach and
Founder, Dear Divorce Coach


But when I recall my divorced friend sitting on my couch sobbing about her 2 year relationship ended, and telling me how guilty she felt that she was so much more devastated than she was by the end her marriage, I think I can understand how she felt back then. The good news is, my friend ended up getting remarried, has two kids and is very happy.


In closing, I think that the lesson here might be the importance of letting yourself mourn the relationship part of your divorce. On your terms, of course, and only when you are ready.


It seems almost impossible to mourn when you have anger and resentment, as well as the fears of your life ahead. But try to go to that place where you were once in love. Remember the reasons you married the person, the happy times, and his or her good qualities, and allow yourself a good cry over the fact that that time is in the past (even if in some ways you are relieved and happy that it is.) I think doing that leaves a person open to finding love again, not as a Band-Aid, but love that is genuine, and for all the right reasons.


Ending this on a good note, the best part (maybe the only good thing) about the breakup of a long-term relationship? You don’t have to go through another divorce. It’s a clean break, meaning no attorneys, no shared assets, and no kids (in some cases). In most cases, unlike the end of a marriage, you get to just walk away. Yes, your heart might be broken, but isn’t the simplicity of the financial aspect a relief?

Like this article? Check out, “20 Things I Wish I Could Have told My Newly Separated Self”

Listen to the Divorced Girl Smiling podcast View the DGS trusted divorce professionals! Divorced Girl Smiling is now offering a private, no-cost, one-on-one phone consult

Sign up for the Divorced Girl Smiling newsletter to get articles on divorce and dating.

Sign up


    Divorced Girl Smiling welcome video
    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at: DivorcedGirlSmiling.com

    4 Responses to “Which is Worse? Ending a Marriage Or Ending a Serious Relationship”

    1. Katie

      It is rare to hear that a relationship breakup is worse than a divorce but everyone’s situation is different. As I am going through my divorce, everyone wants to put their input on how much pain I should be feeling or how much I should be mourning. Everyone heals differently! Good luck to you!

    2. Susan

      heck yeah! that makes complete sense…i was way too busy being a full time parent, income earner, mortgage payer and grown up to really mourn my marriage ending…but boy did it come crashing in when the next relationship didn’t work either. And now, nearly 7 years on, and still nursing broken heart after broken heart, I’d say that with each failure, a little more of my self confidence chips away and lands on the ‘i’m a relationship failure” pile – all the more frustrating because i HAVE done the work on me…

    3. Henrietta Honey

      I can see the argument for a serious relationship ending being more difficult. The mechanics of a divorce and all the paperwork does focus things a bit I guess. I have been through a divorce, but with no kids or house or anything. I think it can be equally difficult. There are people who will have broken up after a relationship that was longer than my marriage – so that is bound to be as hard!


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *